Original Beethoven manuscript found at Palmer

On a recent rainy Thursday, the main entrance hall of the Palmer Seminary was filled with people staring at a book in a cabinet. Bluff-faced men wore suits with significant bulges at their waists and suspiciously watched the crowd, while dignitaries of the seminary and Eastern University loitered.

The focus of the October 13 ruckus was the seminary’s most recent unlikely discovery: the lost manuscript of one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s very last works. This “Beethoven blessing” follows 15 years after the 1990 “Mozart miracle,” when important musical manuscripts from Mozart and Hadyn were found at the seminary, then called Eastern Baptist.

“It’s the second time that lightning has struck,” said Stephen Roe, a musicologist from Sotheby’s of London who was on hand for the unveiling of the manuscript. “I’ve never seen an 80-page manuscript like this outside of a major library.”

The piece should sell for 1-1.5 million pounds sterling in its auction at Sotheby’s London, Roe said. Depending on the exchange rate at that time, the proceeds could run anywhere between $1.5 and $2.5 million.

A Palmer librarian, Heather Carbo, had found the original copy of the piano version of the Grosse Fuge in a library-basement cabinet this past summer. By mid-September, the manuscript had been authenticated.

Until the release date, however, the news was kept to the seminary’s library staff, president and a very few others.

“That was Sotheby’s,” said Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans, a staff writer at the seminary. They were trying to keep the document safe and manage the press reports to increase value, she said.

Earlier reports stated that the proceeds from the sale would go to the Palmer Seminary for paying off its debt and improving its scholarship programs. However, no actual decision as to what the money will be used for and whether it will all stay at the seminary has yet been made, said Ruth MacFarland, assistant to the president of the seminary, Wallace Smith. The decision will be made by the seminary’s Board of Governors at their next meeting.

The manuscripts were originally given by the Doane family to the sacred music department at the seminary, which eventually moved to Eastern College, Eastern music professor David Maness said.

The Beethoven work was a version of an earlier piece for the string quartet, rewritten for four hands on the piano. It is a very difficult piece, but it may be played at the music department’s benefit concert this spring, Maness said.

The interest from the money made by the 1990 Mozart discovery was given to Eastern in order to reestablish the music major, amounting to about $40,000 each year for four to five years, said music department chair Ron Matthews. Then, in exchange for the end of that gift, the seminary turned ownership of the college’s land to Eastern itself for the first time, he said.

“Money is money, and you thank God for it,” Matthews said. “When some comes in, everybody rises.”

According to Maness, the Beethoven manuscript was most likely in a museum room in the basement of the seminary chapel years ago, along with other old and rare books. The items were taken off public view when the room began to leak, and were in storage ever since.

This second bombshell discovery at the seminary suggests the obvious question: whether there are any more valuable documents left to discover. The answer, amazingly, is: possibly yes.

“When they found the [first set of] scores, somebody who had been aware of the scores said there was a Beethoven too,” Maness said. “There was also a rumor that there was a Mendellsohn score as well.”

However, a library in Ohio is known to have a score – not actually written by Mendelssohn – that was given from the Doane collection and might be the object of that rumor, Maness said.

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